Rosberg toured the course at Shanghai International circuit in 1 minute, 35.121 seconds and gave Mercedes its first F1 pole since Juan Manuel Fangio did it back in 1955.
"It went really well and this is a special feeling," said Rosberg. "Now I'm looking forward to the race."
The 56-lap Chinese Grand Prix takes place Sunday.
Lewis Hamilton took second by 1/2 second, but was relegated to seventh position due to a penalty for changing the transmission in his car. That means Michael Schumacker will start in the front row for the 116th time in his career.